We were on the last strutting ground of the morning, number five of five. Plenty of grouse on the first three, and none on the last two.
Not really a surprise, since the last three leks are all within a mile and a half of each other. Park your rig in the right spot, and you can glass all three without moving. And it looks like these three are actually the same population of grouse, moving their strutting center around as time passes.
Probably to throw the eagles off, as they did well on the older two sites, often leaving me nothing to look at in the morning except scattering clumps of grouse feathers. But I check all three sites every time, just to be sure. There were years when there were grouse on all three at the same time.
This high country (Yes, I park on the Continental Divide again here, the Atlantic branch. One lek is on the Divide. I doubt that they care they are strutting in two different major watersheds every morning.) still has snow from the weekend. Places where we were sliding on the skid plates.
This last lek is totally covered with several centimeters of snow. Perfect opportunity to check for grouse tracks to positively determine if the site has been abandoned.
As is fairly common in this place, it took almost three miles of driving to get the mile and a quarter from where we had been sitting. The heeler sisters drag race down our ruts in the snow as I begin wandering the bare hillside.
The masked heeler turns back early, much too early. Her hip has been bothering her lately. Beginning to get concerned. But she is still eager to leap out of the truck at opportunity.
No grouse tracks. Just some old ungulate tracks that have been drifted over and filled. The heelers join me, thrilled that we are on a hunt.
Hunting what does not matter. Just to be out and hunting is all the thrill they need.
I find tracks crossing the lek, near the top of the slope.
Coyote. Just truckin' straight across, no wandering.
I point out one track to the sisters. Immediately two noses go deep into the track. And suck in air, with its trace molecules of coyote.
Two loud snorts come bursting out of their noses, and then they both look up, ears alert, trying to spot the offending canid. I put my finger in the next track. Which is immediately followed by the "suuuck, SNORT!"
And then a third track, and the next. By now, they've got it figured out, and go charging down the hill, roughly following the coyote's trail. Sure that we were hunting coyote all along, and now they're hot on its trail.
'Course, the coyote probably boogied out of this country when we came over the ridge over a mile north of here and sat on the Divide counting grouse for 19 minutes. But the heelers don't know that.
Had to call the little maskless heeler back. She was ready to hunt all morning.
Now, we're only eight miles west of asphalt, having come in from the west. But that way means at least three gates (two of which will be locked, but I've been given the combination) and chugging through the construction, which would be started up for the day by now.
On the other hand, going back over the Divide means about 15 miles of dirt to the highway. One really bad stretch of road (actually, it's so bad it means a stretch of no road), but only one gate. Normally I prefer not to back track, but I hate construction as much as I hate gates.
We go west.
Pausing briefly to watch grouse on the second lek again, and for a brief game of hide-and-seek.
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